Brandon Ford is what you would call a “Jack of all trades.” In addition to being a dedicated math instructor to Navarro College’s students, he is a family man with two children, and he even has his own cattle farm. Professor Ford is a Hawkes Learning Certified Instructor– an instructor who has demonstrated considerable participation in Hawkes professional development opportunities and reflects their Hawkes Learning knowledge via a couple brief Hawkes certification quizzes. As a long-time Hawkes user, it was our pleasure to sit down for a few moments to ask him more about his teaching journey. Here is a peek into Professor Ford’s conversation with Support Specialist, Victoria Kelly:
*This interview has been lightly edited for content and clarity.
What courses do you teach?
I teach the whole developmental sequence as well as the college algebra and statistics courses. We recently had our long-term calculus instructor retire. I am not sure if that means I’ll eventually teach calculus too.
How long have you been teaching at Navarro College?
I’ve been at Navarro since my senior year of high school in one facet or another. I started working in the information technology department in the summer of my senior year, then I attended as a student and never left! I was working full-time in Navarro’s information technology department as I was finishing my degree at Baylor University. In the early 2000s, I started teaching math at Navarro, and in 2012 I left the IT department to officially begin teaching in the mathematics department full-time. I’m coming up on my 10-year anniversary in the math department!
That’s fantastic! What is your favorite thing about working at Navarro College?
I would have to say my coworkers! Navarro has an awesome history that I really love too. Navarro started post-World War II for the soldiers coming back from the war. When I was moving over from IT to instruction, I was nervous, but I have worked with amazing professors! There is a strong comradery in our mathematics wing; we have all developed not only a good working relationship but also a strong friendship.
That sounds like a wonderful atmosphere to work in! Given your background, it sounds like you were probably open to elements of online learning– Over the years, how has your perspective toward online learning changed?
I’ve always liked the idea of online instruction. I will say, the pandemic has definitely changed so much about online learning. For example, before the pandemic, a student willingly signed up for online learning. They knew what they were signing up for when registering for online courses. When we had to transition from face-to-face to online learning mid-semester, it was not what a lot of the students signed up for. I always say “blessed are the flexible, for they will not get bent out of shape.” We had to be very flexible with the students in this adaption to sudden online learning.000
As you reflect on the courses you have taught throughout the years, what is your favorite course to teach?
I think each course has pros and cons, so it’s hard to say which is my favorite course to teach. The state of Texas is getting rid of its traditional developmental course sequence, but I did love teaching the 0306 courses! It was the course right before college algebra.
We are now moving towards the corequisite model, so I would say that my favorite classes to teach now are the college algebra corequisite and college algebra courses. Their content is very straightforward and foundational.
The developmental sequence has always been a passion of mine. These courses offer the opportunity to really help the students understand the material and experience a “light bulb moment.” You get to hear those stories such as “I didn’t think I could do this, but I just made an A on my test!” Moments like these are very fulfilling.
Speaking of moments like that, do you have a particular favorite breakthrough moment?
Yes, I have a few! I had a student who was a cosmetology student at the time. She was discouraged about her math classes and felt intimidated by them. She was able to successfully pass her class with me, and now she’s a cosmetology instructor at the school!
I had another student who was in my college algebra course and was also enrolled in the corequisite course. I saw him at the car wash one day and started chatting with him. He was about to graduate, so we were talking about his plans. He shared that he was never interested in math before taking my class, but he enjoyed learning about numbers so much he changed his major to accounting!
Those stories are very special to me as they remind me that I have made a difference.
Can you tell me a little more about your classroom style and approach?
I would say I mix it up quite a bit, and it depends on the course. Many of my corequisite classes are project-based. Professor Young and I do a lot of presentations to share our project-based approaches with other instructors. Our contemporary math and statistics classes are pretty hands-on but in our college algebra classes, I use the iPads to work with Desmos. This allows us to look at the trends of the functions together. I am a big fan of colorful presentations, so I try to include bright colors in my classroom. The college jokes that I’m the instructor who would sing you the quadratic formula. Whatever it takes to capture the attention of the students is worth it…even if they laugh! I also just had another child, so you could say that I’m growing in my “dad-joke” humor.
That’s awesome! I’m a big fan of dad jokes! It sounds like you have a great relationship with the students and really try to engage with them in the classroom. Can you tell me what approaches you take to help reach an underperforming student? How do you pinpoint these students and coach them to succeed?
I try to make my classroom and office a welcoming space. I keep candy on my desk as an incentive for the student to come and ask questions. I try to connect with the students after class and relate to them on a personal level; we aren’t really going to connect with them mathematically until we can establish that personal connection of trust. Students have many things going on in life. Sometimes a student’s struggle in math is related more to what is going on in their personal life versus the academic atmosphere or math content. I try to establish that personal connection before trying to find the root of the math issues they’re having.
You mentioned that students have struggles outside of the classroom that can affect the progress of their studies. What would you say are some of the biggest challenges instructors are facing?
I would say the biggest challenge is simply the fact that you have to be “everything.” For example, you can’t just choose one teaching modality and expect it to work. I would also say it’s the fact that you must have everything ready by a moment’s notice. With quarantine periods being the new norm, instructors are really challenged to be ready to move courses online quickly and smoothly. This presents the challenge of reaching students who did not initially sign up to be online learners.
As a Hawkes Learning Certified Instructor, I’m curious about which tools you enjoy utilizing the most in the instructor Grade Book. Could you share some of your favorite Hawkes features?
I use so many of the reporting tools! I’m always running reports. I also really love the Communications tool and I love the fact that the system can automatically send a reminder 3 days before an assignment is due.
I love being able to see when students have logged in in the Time Per Student report; it helps me determine how I can approach a student who is falling behind. When a student begins to stop working, it is very easy for them to lose momentum, so this report can help me intervene.
I also love being able to share the HawkesTV links with my students. I record my own lecture videos, but I am glad to have the Hawkes links to share as well. I just love that there are so many resources available to me and my students.
You mentioned that during the summer you and your family will be traveling and enjoying your RV. That sounds so exciting! Over the summer months, do you have anything you’re reading or researching?
I’m sorry to say that my reading has waned since my two-year-old little boy came along. He is all boy and needs constant supervision. However, my mom surprised me the other day with a new book from my favorite author! I am hoping to catch up on my Dean Koontz reading from a hammock with a cold drink in my hand.
Do you enjoy any podcasts?
Well, back in high school I was introduced to Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. They have turned the original radio show into a podcast, so I have been going back and revisiting those! I have to say that other than the Lord of the Rings, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is my most favorite book ever written. I go back and read it from time to time, and it still makes me laugh every time. I actually use that book in my classes! I tell my students at the beginning of the term “don’t panic” when it comes to math, which is a nod to the book.
Do you have any mentors in the field?
I would definitely say my mentors are the faculty I work with. We have such an incredible staff; I work with them daily and get to see what they do, how they help their students, and how they evolve to meet the expectations of education. I am always amazed at how well they teach and how they interact with their students. I learn from them daily.
That’s fantastic to hear. I noticed your email signature said that you are a Phi Theta Kappa advisor! How long have you been doing that?
Yes! I am a Phi Theta Kappa alumni myself-class of 2001. Our chapter really went into a decline for a little while. Back in 2016, an email went out saying that they were losing their advisor and looking for a new volunteer. I jumped in and took the reins. I have made so many wonderful friendships over the years through this volunteer opportunity. I have enjoyed seeing the students succeed and earn scholarships, graduate, and receive accolades. One of my students even was accepted to Columbia University recently. I’m really excited for her!
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. It has been an honor to get to learn more about your teaching journey, and I’m so excited to share this with our Hawkes Family.